Thursday, 19 June 2014
Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness
Judge McGuinness is very welcome, and particularly so because of the words that she used today and the opportunity that she has given us to speak about this topic. It gave me the opportunity to look through - I would not say study - the Report Card of the Children's Rights Alliance. I congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout and Tanya Ward on the work done. I have been in this House for more than 20 years now. Within a few minutes of the budget having been read out, I try to do a report card here and invariably find myself writing the sort of things that the alliance has put in the report, which is "tries hard but could do better". That is what I always wanted to get in school.
I was struck by the number of grade Cs, grade Ds and even grade E minus, and those were in important areas such as education, literacy, mental care, the children's hospital, child poverty as well as areas which Judge McGuinness has mentioned already, namely, Traveller children and migrant children. How much we have to learn.
There is great benefit in having someone like Judge McGuinness come into this House, and it is also a reminder of the great benefit in the House existing. I am reminded of the work that went on here in abolishing the word "illegitimate" 20 years ago - the judge and Senator Terry Leyden talked about it, too. It is also a reminder of the amount of work that we can do in the years ahead, one of the principal areas of which being education. My wife and I were going through Kinsealy the other day and saw the sign above the national school there which said that it had been established in 1831. I think that was when free compulsory education came to Ireland. Often, we blame the British for a lot of things, and I am sure that there is a lot to blame them for, but the vast majority of our children in Ireland got the benefit of that education.
Judge McGuinness told us that we still have a problem with education for Traveller children and migrant children, and of course we have got a lot more to do there. My wife and I talked about it because we are fortunate enough to have 16 grandchildren. We see how enthusiastic they can be and how much they can learn from a very early age. My only sister had seven children when her husband was killed up north.
A couple of years later, she told us she was getting married again and that her future husband's wife had died two years previously, leaving him with nine children. My sister, with seven children, married Jim, with nine, and it has been a marvellous success. I mention it because it is a joy to have healthy children and to enjoy their company, compared to those who ended up in institutions, whatever they may be.
Last year, somebody who was trying to adopt a child from Russia contacted me. The person had met and bonded with the child, but suddenly the laws changed and it looked as though the adoption would not happen. In the last hour of the last session before the Christmas recess, six months ago, the then Minister for Children and Family Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, came here and managed to change the law. This morning I received a lovely e-mail with a photograph inviting me to the christening of the little boy, who has come from Russia to Ireland. When one sees such joy, one thinks of those who have not had that benefit. The Seanad can work on this.
In one of our supermarkets, a man came to me and said he knew nothing about Champagne but wanted to buy a bottle. I helped him find what he wanted, and he told me he had been looking for his birth mother for 30 or 40 years and had not been able to find her, but he had taken three days off and traced her to the Isle of Man. He phoned her and asked her if a certain date 40 years earlier meant anything to her. She was thrilled because she had been looking for him for 40 years. He told me she was coming into Dublin Airport and he wanted to welcome her home. I thought of how fortunate those of us who have been able to stay out of institutions are. While some institutions are marvellous, we have the record and we know there are always good and less good people. The fact that there has been much criticism in recent weeks of some of the things that happened years ago should not make us condemn everything. Much can be done. The report card tells us some of the things that can be done and what we hope to achieve in the years ahead.
How should we judge success in 2020, six years from now? What do we have to do now to sow the seeds of success and overcome the problems to which Ms McGuinness has drawn our attention and to which the Children's Rights Alliance has drawn our attention in its wonderful Report Card 2014? It should be compulsory reading for everybody, as should Ms McGuinness's speech.